Mark J. Price
Akron native Lola Albright, the former West High School student and WAKR receptionist who grew up to be a glamorous star in Hollywood, died Thursday morning in Toluca Lake, Calif. She was 92.
Albright was perhaps best-known for playing nightclub singer Edie Hart opposite Craig Stevens in the NBC television show Peter Gunn, which aired from 1958 to 1961. She was nominated for an Emmy in 1959 for the role.
“She went very peacefully,” friend Eric Anderson said. “She died at 7:20 a.m. of natural causes. We loved her so much.”
Funeral arrangements were pending.
The blue-eyed blonde shared the silver screen with some of the biggest names in show business. She appeared in nearly 40 movies, including Champion (1949) with Kirk Douglas, The Good Humor Man (1950) with her future husband Jack Carson, The Tender Trap (1955) with Frank Sinatra and Debbie Reynolds, Kid Galahad (1962) with Elvis Presley and Les Felins (1964) with Jane Fonda. She also appeared in dozens of TV shows before retiring from show business in the 1970s.
Albright, the daughter of Marion and John Paul Albright, was born July 20, 1924, and grew up on Fairfield Avenue in West Akron. She attended King Elementary School and graduated in 1942 from West High School, where her class voted her as “best looking girl.” The Rodeo yearbook described her as adorable, moody and talented.
“I have very wonderful memories of my hometown,” she told the Beacon Journal more than a decade ago in her final interview with the newspaper. As a matter of fact, I considered very seriously when my life ‘fell apart’ back in the ’70s, to come back to Akron and live. That turned out not to be a good idea. You can’t go home again.”
That was literal for Albright. The house at 552 Fairfield was demolished years ago. “My house was a great, big, really old house, and really ugly,” she said. “Interesting inside, but really ugly. I can’t really blame them for tearing it down. It was old when I lived in it. ... Helen Waterhouse, who was a reporter, bought the house I lived in after my parents and I moved away.”
Recalling King Elementary, she said: “I was very, very lucky to get to go there. They had good teachers. I went there from kindergarten on, and we had this great playground and we had great baseball teams and basketball teams. And I broke my nose playing basketball. Well, it was just a wonderful place.”
At West High School, Albright said she belonged to a group called the TADs. “It stood for ‘Tomorrow Is Another Day,’?” she said. “Very clever, don’t you think? We hung together.”
She was surprised when the former school was converted into senior apartments on Maple Street.
“I remember somebody sending me the front page of the paper, the Beacon Journal, and there was my West High School,” she said. “It had been turned into condominiums.”
After graduation, Albright found a job as a receptionist at WAKR radio in the First National Tower in downtown Akron. She left WAKR to go to Cleveland’s WTAM, where she wed announcer Warren Dean, a marriage that ended in divorce a few years later. Moving to Chicago, she worked as a photographer’s model and was discovered by a talent scout. The next thing she knew, she was getting screen tests in Hollywood.
“That wasn’t my plan at all,” she said. “I had no plan to go into the movies whatsoever. It never entered my mind.”
At age 23, Albright won bit parts in the musicals Easter Parade (1948) with Judy Garland and Fred Astaire, and The Pirate (1948) with Garland and Gene Kelly. After she appeared as Kirk Douglas’ love interest in Champion, she said she went home and cried after seeing the screening.
“I look so awful and act worse,” she complained at the time.
Audiences disagreed and Albright, who spoke in a low, sultry voice, became a hot commodity in movies and television. She always tried to maintain her privacy, though.
“I gave an interview — it was the first interview I ever gave — many, many, many, many years ago,” she told the Beacon Journal. “More than I care to think. And I rue the day because it was on the front page above the fold. I didn’t understand at the time how an interviewer could get at you. She’d be so persuasive and so sweet and so kind and make you say things you should never have said.”
The Akron actress married actor Jack Carson in 1952, but the couple divorced in 1958, the year that Peter Gunn debuted. Many people remember the TV show today for its jazzy theme song.
As a vocalist, Albright recorded the albums Lola Wants You (1957) and Dreamsville (1959) with Cleveland native Henry Mancini.
In 1961, Albright married pianist Bill Chadney, but the couple divorced in 1971.
“I had seven stepchildren,” Albright said. “I have no children of my own.”
Albright gave up acting in the late 1970s and never looked back. She remained single and enjoyed taking care of her pets. She no longer wanted to be in the public spotlight.
“I value my privacy,” she explained.
Albright fractured her spine in a fall three years ago and had been in declining health, but family friends said she was still very witty and sharp.
“What was Lola like?” actress and friend Sahar Bibiyan asked. “Feisty, very giving, generous. Full of stories. Very private. Very humble. She was one of the funniest people I ever met.”
In her final interview with the Beacon Journal, Lola Albright offered this:
“Your 40s are your best time, honestly. If I had my druthers about when to live a whole life, I would say in the 40s. Just stay there. Because you’ve learned a few things by then.”
Beacon Journal copy editor Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.